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Re: Nim Chimpsy (was "implicational and factive verbs"

From:J Matthew Pearson <pearson@...>
Date:Friday, January 26, 2001, 4:06
Eric Christopherson wrote:

> On Thu, Jan 25, 2001 at 04:22:17AM -0500, czHANg Jon Chang wrote: > > Dan Sulani wrote: > > > BTW, anyone ever heard of (or _remember_ ;-) ) the original > > > "Nim"? A chimpanzee called "Nim Chimpsky" who was one of > > > the original volunteers (er, I mean "subjects" ;-) ) in the research on > > > teaching apes to use (human) language. > [snip] > > ::big grin:: I do. Interesting case: the researcher didn't relate to Nim on a an > > emotional level & poor Nim - havin' the emotional level & needs of a 3 year > > old child - was totally bored & burned out by the repetitiveness of all the > > experiments. The much vaunted "Scientific Method" was too alienatin to Nim. > > In contrast is the research done by Patterson with Koko the Gorilla: much was > > accomplished (& evidently still is) 'cuz Patterson related on an emotional > > level with Koko. > > > > Science does not need to be so "cold & distant" especially when dealin with > > interspecies communication(s). > > As much as I'd like to believe Koko can speak sign language (I've been > enthralled with her story since I got the book _Koko's Kitten_ for > Christmas years ago), the experiment has been harshly criticized for > methodological flaws; according to the critics, Patterson et al. seem to > project their wishful thinking in interpreting Koko's "signing."
I've read some of that criticism. The most generous critics concede that Koko was able to master a large number of signs and use them consistently, but they point out that she rarely used them spontaneously, and never developed what could be called a syntax (instead, she would tend to string words together more-or-less randomly: "Want Koko want play Koko tickle tickle play Koko play Koko", etc.). The general impression I get from objective evaluations of these experiments is that non-human primates can easily learn to associate arbitrary signs with abstract concepts (no surprise, really; lots of animals have that ability). However, they fail to intuit rules for systematically combining those signs into utterances--a necessary property of human language. Matt.